How to Teach Kids Growth Mindset the Natural Way

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Knowing how to effectively teach kids growth mindset is a daunting task…especially if you aren’t really sure what growth mindset is yourself. Yet even if you are familiar with the concept, breaking it down and actually teaching the tenets to your students is tricky.

So we are going to dive deep into…

  • Defining the concept of growth mindset
  • Observing how it differs from a fixed mindset
  • Understanding that we choose our own mindset
  • Creating a growth mindset classroom culture
  • Curating the best growth mindset books for kids
  • Incorporating growth mindset activities for kids

Growth Mindset

The phrase growth mindset was first coined by Dr. Carol Dweck in her ground-breaking book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success. Her ideas and research-based practices have revealed that our beliefs in our abilities are foundational to our success.

She even posited, “It isn’t always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”

But how does that relate to teaching growth mindset to kids?

Well, at its core, growth mindset is all about helping kids understand how their thinking directly affects their ability.

For you to effectively teach growth mindset, you need to do some personal reflection FIRST. I know this isn’t easy, but it’s essential. You have to model a growth mindset before you can teach children a growth mindset.

As uncomfortable as the truth may be, you’ll probably have to alter some of your own attitudes and the way you speak to yourself. But I promise that if you abandon a fixed mindset and embrace a growth mindset, EVERYTHING will change with what you believe is possible!

What’s the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset?

So, what is a fixed mindset? Well, in its most basic terms, an individual with a fixed mindset believes change is impossible. You’ve probably heard the phrase, I was just born this way, or other things like… 

  • I can’t do this. 
  • This is too hard. 
  • I’m not smart enough.
  • I’m stupid.
  • I’m not old enough.
  • I’m too old.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  • I will never understand this.

These are the types of things individuals with a fixed mindset genuinely believe. They are convinced that people are born with innate talents and abilities. Therefore, there is no use in trying to get better at certain things because we cannot “overcome” our abilities.

So, how is that different from a growth mindset? Well, someone with a growth mindset says things like… 

  • I can’t do this…yet.
  • This is difficult, but I’m going to keep trying.
  • I still have learning to do, but I will figure this out.
  • I can do whatever I set my mind to.
  • I am capable, I am strong, and I am valuable.

Notice how these thoughts, though still focused on the current reality, are made in light of the difference that perseverance will make on the future. Growth mindset always acknowledges the reality, but in a way that allows for improvement.

Can we change our mindsets?

The short answer…YES!

Is it easy? NO!

You see, choosing to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset is completely dependent on the one whose mindset needs to change. No amount of desire from you can change another person. They have to make the conscious decision to want to change.

Sadly, many of our students come to us with so much baggage. They’ve heard others say hurtful things about what they can or cannot do. Some have been told what sort of potential (or lack thereof) they have. These negative words affect the student’s outlook and sense of worth.

This certainly hasn’t taught them a growth mindset in their early years. However, you have the power to help them break that cycle of negativity by teaching them how to embrace their current abilities in light of what they can do…if they are willing!

Creating a Growth Mindset Classroom Culture

Creating a classroom community that embraces growth mindset begins with understanding the difference between the two mindsets. The easiest way to help kids understand the concept is by creating an anchor chart with two columns labeled growth mindset and fixed mindset.

Offer your students a statement, and let them discuss whether it is a growth mindset statement or a fixed mindset statement. Once the class agrees, write the statements under the appropriate columns.

After the anchor chart is complete, you can hang it in a prime location in your classroom. This growth mindset poster will be a constant visual reminder of the effect certain words have on our attitudes and abilities.

Having the growth mindset poster hanging up in the classroom encourages peer interactions. If kids hear a fellow classmate using a fixed mindset statement, they can help their peer reframe his thoughts into a more positive attitude and become less frustrated.

When you hear students encouraging one another or using growth mindset statements on themselves, you can point out this new skill and how it is being used appropriately in the classroom context. This is the perfect teachable moment for all of your students.

Using Books to Teach Kids Growth Mindset

My favorite classroom tools for teaching any new skills are books. And there are some absolutely fantastic books that are the perfect springboards to teach kids growth mindset. These are my top ten favorite growth mindset books!

1. The Bad Seed

This charming & beautifully illustrated book by Jory John follows the main character known as a “Bad Seed.”  He makes it clear from the beginning of the story that he does things to ensure others know just how bad he really is.

But he makes sure to share his tragic backstory and the fact that he wasn’t always a bad seed. He actually had a good life before a series of traumatic events & encounters changed him.

The reader quickly discovers how events in life can change one’s mindset from good to bad or bad to good. But in an unforeseen turn of events, the bad seed declares that he has recently had a change of heart which will affect every aspect of his life.

2. Ish

This story introduces us to a little boy named Ramon, an artist who draws anywhere and everywhere. At least he does until the day his brother says something hurtful about one of his masterpieces.

Ramon becomes angry by the comment and soon finds himself unable to shake the words.

Frustrated, Ramon’s attitude changes, and his ability to draw becomes impaired. He finally decides he is done trying and altogether quits drawing.

But, little does Ramon know his sister, Marisol, has been curating a collection of his crumpled up masterpieces. When confronted by Ramon about a drawing that was supposed to be a vase, Marisol states, “Well, it looks vase-ish!”

From that moment forward, the word “ish” frees Ramon from the hurtful words of his brother and gives him a new outlook on his abilities and the world around him.

By revealing just how powerful words are, this story gives insight into the power a fixed mindset and a growth mindset can have on our current abilities and future potential in every other facet of our lives.

3. The Most Magnificent Thing

Another fantastic growth mindset book for kids is “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires. In this book, the main character already has an image in her mind of what the “most magnificent thing” will look like and how it will work.

After hiring an assistant (her dog), the little girl gets right to work creating. Unfortunately, she runs into a few snags along the way.

She discovers just how hard this is actually going to be to make. After multiple failed attempts, she gets angry and ends up getting hurt.

Her assistant convinces her to take a walk and clear her head. This break gives her the focus and perspective she needs to go back and create her magnificent thing.

4. What Do You Do With a Problem?

This is the second book in an absolutely fantastic trilogy of books by Kobi Yamada about mindset. The story opens with the main character having a problem that he didn’t want, but nevertheless, it is there.

The more he tries to get rid of the problem, the bigger it gets. He tries everything to get rid of it, but it just gets bigger.

Over time, he begins to worry about it and fears that the problem will become so big that it will swallow him.

When he finally decides to face his problem, he discovers that, at the very center of his problem, there is an opportunity to learn and grow. The courageous main character ultimately realizes that every problem holds an opportunity.

5. How to Catch a Star

In this great book, we’re introduced to a determined little boy who loves stars so much that he decides to catch one.

All day he waits all day for the stars to appear. When they finally do, he makes several attempts to catch one. When he discovers that none of his ingenious ideas work, he begins to worry that he will never be able to catch a star.

Yet, he never allows that worry to overshadow the hope he has in his heart.

In the end, he finds a star lying on the beach and discovers that his hope gave him the perseverance he needed to truly catch a star!

6. Jabari Jumps

This unique book by Gaia Cornwall is the perfect addition to every library. Jabari is so excited to jump off the big diving board after completing all of his swimming lessons and passing his swimming test.

As he watches the other swimmers climb all the way to the top, he is convinced he is ready, and after giving his dad’s hand a squeeze, he gets in line with the others.

But when he gets to the top, he realizes taking that big jump is going to be harder than he anticipated. In this sweet book, readers learn how to overcome even their biggest fears and take the leap!

7. Bubble Gum Brain

“Becoming is better than being.” Bubble Gum Brain and Brick Brain are two different characters with two uniquely different mindsets.

Bubble Gum Brain enjoys trying new things and doesn’t worry about making mistakes because he knows they are just learning opportunities.

Brick Brain, on the other hand, likes for things to stay the way they are because he knows what he is already good at and which things he needs to avoid.

However, with a little help from Bubble Gum Brain, Brick Brain learns an important lesson about opening his mind to new possibilities.

8. Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

One of the first of its kind, this amazing growth mindset book by Dr. Joann Deak is as informative as it is engaging.

From the anatomy and basic functions of the brain to the ways brain exercises help shape our brains, this book is full of fantastic information. Students will love learning about how truly amazing our brains really are!

This best seller has been written in a kid-friendly format that boasts colorful illustrations and accurate details which will appeal to young readers and older kids alike.

9. After the Fall

Everyone has heard the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty, but there is more to his story. In this excellent read, we find Humpty Dumpty fearful of heights after the traumatic incident.

He has started avoiding many of his favorite activities because he is so afraid of what might happen. Can Humpty face his fear and find the courage to get back up again or will he stay close to the ground for the rest of his life?

10. Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

This powerful book tells the inspiring story of a boy named Emmanuel who was born with a deformed leg in Ghana, West Africa. No one believed that Emmanuel would amount to anything…except his mother.

She taught him to reach for his dreams and that he could do anything he set his mind to do. As a young child, he had to hop to school over two miles each way and learned to play soccer.

At the age of 13, he left home to help provide for his family. Eventually, he became a cyclist and biked 400 miles across Ghana in 2001 spreading the message Disability is not inability.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of growth mindset books, it contains my ten favorite growth mindset children’s books.

These picture books contain such amazing content and incorporating read alouds as well as relevant activities is a great way to help students truly embrace this idea of growth mindset.

Growth Mindset Activities for Kids

The amazing thing about knowing how to teach kids growth mindset with activities is the fact that they get to apply extremely abstract principles to real world situations. 

In fact, the most important thing they are (hopefully) going to discover is that growth mindset is all about being willing to try things…even hard things, knowing you will probably fail the first time.

There are tons of ideas and activities online, but these are some of the best ways to help your students make the connection.

The Paper Folding Challenge

In this challenge, students are shown an example of a paper structure. This structure has been created prior to the class so that they can only see the end result.

Their task is to attempt to recreate the structure using the same folds and cuts without any additional guidance.

The key to this challenge is the fact that they may look at the structure as much as they want, but they may NOT touch it or handle it in any way.

For more information about this, you can Google “the paper folding challenge.”

Crumpled Paper Activity

This activity is the perfect accompaniment to the story “Ish.”

In this activity, students are given a paper heart to hold. As you read the story, students are gingerly holding their hearts so as not to wrinkle them. When you read the section about how Ramon’s brother hurt his feelings by making fun his masterpiece, your students need to crumple up their hearts.

After reading the section about how Ramon’s sister makes him feel better about his “-ish” drawings, have the students flatten out their paper hearts. This is an opportunity for them to realize that no matter how hard they try, their hearts are never the same.

Be prepared to discuss about different times that your students have experienced a crumpled heart. Be vigilant in reminding them about why we don’t want to say hurtful things to others.

This will be a good reminder about the power of our words and how the things we say to others can ultimately affect how they feel about themselves.

Drawing Challenge

In this last challenge, students are given a piece of paper with a simple mark on it. It could be half a circle, a simple line, or part of another shape. The object of this task is to have students create a drawing from this original mark.

As a teacher, you will educate children year after year. But, one of the most life-altering parts of your job is to teach kids growth mindset. Because the reality is that if they can ever adopt this mindset and truly own it, they can literally accomplish anything.